Patron Confidentiality and Privacy Policy

Policy Owner(s): Director of Public Services — Operations

Date of Origin: 9/91
Date(s) of Revision:
6/93, 4/02, 12/03, 8/08, 5/14, 4/16, 8/17

Protecting patron privacy and confidentiality has long been an integral part of the mission of libraries.
The King County Library System (KCLS) strives to protect each library patron's right to privacy and
confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed,
acquired or transmitted. The following policy addresses how KCLS protects patron privacy and
maintains the confidentiality of patron records.


All KCLS patrons are entitled to privacy regarding their use of library materials and services as follows:

Consistent with RCW 42.56.310, all KCLS library records the primary purpose of which is to maintain
control of library materials, or to gain access to information, that discloses or could be used to
disclose the identity of a library patron are confidential in nature.

Library records that could be used to identify a library user include, but are not limited to, all
circulation records, computer booking records, patron information, or video footage. Such records will not be made available to any individual, organization or federal, state or local government agency,with limited exceptions.

KCLS is legally obligated to honor requests for library records made by an agency of federal, state or
local government including, but not limited to law enforcement agencies, when a subpoena, warrant,
court order or other investigatory document is properly issued by a court of competent jurisdiction that shows good cause. When a request for library records is received library staff will follow the
Procedures for Handling Requests for Library Records.

KCLS also is legally obligated to comply with the information request requirements of the USA Patriot
Act, enacted on October 26, 2001. If library records are requested under the USA Patriot Act, library
staff may not inform the person about whom the information is requested, nor speak to co-workers,
the media or other government officials about the inquiry.

While library records are confidential in nature:

a. Any patron is entitled to his or her own library account information.

b. A parent or guardian may have access to a library account (see definition) for minor children up
to age 18 unless the minor is emancipated. This information will not be released without
verification of card ownership/parental relationship (see Circulation Manual section

c. Staff may use library accounts and the computer booking system to provide patron information
to the police for the purpose of implementing a KCLS-initiated trespass or to pursue legal

d. Staff may use library accounts to notify a patron regarding recovery of stolen library materials
or lost and found items.

e. With approval of the Library Director or designee:

  • KCLS may use names and addresses (both residential and electronic) from library records
    for the purpose of conducting user surveys or to notify patrons of upcoming events.
  • The KCLS Foundation may use names and addresses (both residential and electronic) of
    library patrons for the purpose of notifying patrons of upcoming events or to invite patrons
    to monetarily support KCLS Foundation activities.
  • Patrons will be given an option to inform KCLS or the KCLS Foundation of the desire not to
    receive such notifications.

There is no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding a person's presence in a public building. For
that reason, library staff may respond to questions from law enforcement officers about a person's
presence in the library. Please note that there is a distinction between privacy of a patron's use of
library materials and services and their physical presence in a public building. For example:

  • If a law enforcement officer asks staff for information from a patron’s library account or asks if
    a patron has used the computers, staff should follow the Procedures for Handling Requests for
    Library Records.
  • If a law enforcement officer, who has provided identification, shows staff a picture of a patron
    and asks if the patron has been in the library during a designated time period, library staff
    should answer the officer's inquiry to the best of their ability as the patron has no expectation
    of privacy in this instance.
  • If a person asks (via telephone or in person) about another patron’s presence in the library,
    regardless of age (e.g. a parent looking for a child), staff may not provide verification.

In addition, staff may not post (in public or staff areas), proactively monitor the library for an
individual and/or report to law enforcement when that person comes into the library, including but not limited to registered sex offenders, runaways, truant minors and fugitives.

KCLS will only take action when notified by law enforcement that a particular patron is a registered sex offender who is subject to court-ordered restrictions. Local management will determine if actions are needed to limit the patron’s use of facilities or services by obtaining a certified copy of the order to verify if any restrictions are relevant to library use.

To allow patrons the convenience to pick up and checkout their own holds, KCLS uses safeguards to
protect patron privacy when placing holds that are ready to pick up on public shelves (i.e. shelve titles spine down, code for patrons’ names).

KCLS takes many measures to safeguard patron information, but KCLS cannot and does not guarantee that every task completed via its website, catalogs, databases or public computers is private.

DEFINITIONS (if applicable)

  • Library Records:All circulation records, computer booking records and other records whoseprimary purpose of which is to maintain control of library materials, or to gain access to
    information that discloses or could be used to disclose the identity of a library user. RCW45.56.310
  • Library Account: Information about items on loan, items on hold, overdue items and fines, but
    does not include computer booking records.
  • Subpoena: A formal written order issued by a government agency, most often a court, which
    has authority to compel testimony by a witness or production of evidence under a penalty for
    failure to comply.
  • Warrant: A formal written order issued by a government agency, most often a court, which
    permits an otherwise illegal act that would violate individual rights. Warrants normally issued
    by a court include search warrants, arrest warrants and execution warrants.